Some snarky hipster once coined the term “PBR&B” for Brooklynites crafting contemporary rhythm and blues fueled by everyone’s favorite shitty beer. While Autre Ne Veut’s Arthur Ashin does, in fact, reside in that particular New York borough and play some sort of hybridized R&B, the term so often chucked in his direction seems largely incorrect. Unlike Pabst’s weak, flat profile, Autre Ne Veut excels in its complexity and contemplation.
In fact, Ashin’s sophomore effort Age of Transparency is even more intricate than 2013’s debut Anxiety. Whereas much of Anxiety can be distilled into its piano-based origins (check out this version of “Counting” for reference), Age of Transparency seems to relish in the intention and independence of its pew-pewing laser synth pop. Ashin, who began experimenting with a jazz combo early in the sessions and later self-produced the record, has a way of twisting the sounds of acoustic instruments into wholly unnatural, inorganic noises.
This doesn’t make Autre Ne Veut any less musical, though. The electronics take rhythmic and melodic hints from heavy metal on “Cold Winds,” which asserts its defiance in chunky, low-pitch chord slams. Next, the title track features soprano saxophone work reminiscent of Bon Iver’s “Beth/Rest.” And while the closing track “Get Out” starts with a functional four-four rhythm beat out on a drum pad, about halfway through, Ashin introduces a bridge that strips it all away to bare his voice alongside a percussion-less keyboard line. But as the song begins its metamorphosing swell, it evolves into a soulful swansong with a swinging backbeat. Suddenly, Age of Transparency assumes the characteristics of a living being, as Ashin admits, “But you really need people to tell you what it’s all about.”
The highlight of Age of Transparency remains in Ashin’s range of vocals, though. He sculpts his voice to fit in in tiniest spaces that can only accommodate for falsetto gasps, while also belting the biggest R&B bellows all within the same song. While the electronica can occasionally become an abrasive racket on parts of Age of Transparency, Ashin’s singing serves as a reminder of human melody and soul.